General Election Sprint Begins with Attacks

By John Forester | August 15, 2018

From …

Both sides wasted little time in going after Dem guv nominee Tony Evers and GOP Senate nominee Leah Vukmir with new ads signaling the sprint to the November general election.

The state GOP announced a TV and digital ad accusing Evers, the state superintendent, of failing to keep students safe.

The spot follows a line of attack the state GOP has already used on Evers over a Middleton teacher who kept his license in 2014 after viewing pornographic images at work and showing them to his female co-workers. Evers has argued state law didn’t give him the power to revoke his license; the law has since been changed.

The state GOP said the initial buy was about $500,000 with more on digital. The liberal One Wisconsin Now, which tracks TV ads, said the party is spending $414,000 on broadcast TV in Green Bay, La Crosse/Eau Claire, Wausau, Madison and Milwaukee, as well as cable.

The narrator opens the spot saying Evers knew about a teacher viewing and sharing “pornographic material at school” as well as making “sexual remarks about the bodies of middle school girls.”

“Yet despite calls from parents and school officials, Tony Evers sided with the union and refused to revoke the teacher’s license,” the narrator adds.

The narrator then closes the spot, “As Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Evers is supposed to keep our children safe. But he didn’t.”

See the ad here.

The liberal American Bridge, meanwhile, is launching a digital ad that quotes Kevin Nicholson calling Vukmir a “career politician.”

The spot opens with text on the screen reading “Wisconsin Republicans say … You can’t trust Leah Vukmir.”

A voice says Vukmir is the “consummate insider who’s been running for various offices for 20 years.”

It then quotes Nicholson from various interviews saying the more career politicians who are sent to Washington, “the more problems we seem to have” and knocking Vukmir’s talk about her voting record in the Legislature, saying it’s “not enough.”

“That’s a career politician’s track record, and people should assume that it will go to Washington and become part of a system, which is filled with career politicians,” Nicholson says.

The final screen reads, “They don’t trust Leah Vukmir. Neither can Wisconsin.”

See the digital ad here.

Evers won the eight-way Dem primary with 41.8 percent of the vote, while Vukmir garnered 49 percent.

Evers’ nearest rival was Mahlon Mitchell, head of the statewide firefighters union, at 16.4 percent, while business consultant Kevin Nicholson hit 42.9 percent.

Nicholson benefited from outside spending by a series of independent groups that were backed by Illinois businessman Dick Uihlein.

One of those groups, Restoration PAC, congratulated Vukmir, but didn’t expressly commit to continue spending in the Wisconsin U.S. Senate race.

“We congratulate Leah Vukmir on a hard fought primary victory and urge all Republicans to unite behind her candidacy,” PAC founder Doug Truax told in a statement. “Restoration PAC remains opposed to ultra-liberal Senator Tammy Baldwin and we are committed to defeating her in November.”

Two lawmakers lost their primaries, while two survived intraparty challenges.

Attorney Marisabel Cabrera had 1,982 votes, or 64.1 percent, to 1,110 votes, or 35.9 percent for Dem Rep. Josh Zepnick, who was hit with allegations he kissed two women without their consent at Dem Party events.

In the 12th AD, MPS teacher LaKeshia Myers had 3,709 votes, or 59.3 percent, to 2,545 votes, or 40.7 percent, for Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, Reps. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, and John Spiros, R-Marshfield, survived their primary challenges.

See more in the Election Blog on yesterday’s races here.

More votes were cast in the Dem guv primary than in the GOP U.S. Senate race.

According to unofficial returns, 537,840 votes were cast for the Dem guv candidates.

Meanwhile, 442,567 voters turned out for the GOP U.S. Senate race. There also were more votes cast in the GOP guv primary even though Gov. Scott Walker had token opposition; 456,007 votes were cast in that race.

See full results here.

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DOJ Unveiling 2nd Round of Safety Grants

By John Forester | July 24, 2018

From …

The state Department of Justice is unveiling the second round of the school safety grant program today aimed at bolstering mental health initiatives in schools, among other things.

The announcement comes as the agency has weighed options for spending the remaining $43.4 million of state funding under the newly created $100 million school safety grant program. During the first round of applications, which closed in June, 735 schools and districts requested $56.6 million in total funding for building improvements and other safety initiatives.

While the second round of funding will continue to focus on additional physical security upgrades, it’ll also prioritize “advanced initiatives to bolster student mental health” and creating School Safety Intervention teams, according to the DOJ.

The grants will be awarded starting in October.

See Milwaukee Journal Sentinel coverage here.

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Evers: DOJ Should Use Remaining Safety Money for School Mental Health

By John Forester | July 24, 2018

From …

State schools Superintendent Tony Evers says the state Department of Justice should use the remaining $40 million-plus in school safety grant funding to prioritize mental health.

Evers’ comments came at a news conference yesterday at Schenk Elementary School in Madison, where he also unveiled the Department of Public Instruction’s 2019-21 budget request surrounding mental health initiatives.

Under the newly created $100 million school safety grant program, 735 schools and districts requested $56.6 million in total funding. Assuming all the money is allocated as requested, there’ll be some $43.4 million of state funding leftover. DOJ officials have previously said the agency would make a determination about how to use that funding after consulting with School Safety Director Kristen Devitt.

But Evers, who’s also running for guv, stressed the need to use the leftover funding to ensure students can be in “a place mentally and physically where they can learn.”

That means using the funding to implement more statewide training and support for young people, as well as other priorities he highlighted as part of his budget request today.

The budget request includes $5 million in specialized support for school mental health training; an additional $44 million in mental health categorical aid to match district funding when hiring for pupil services staff; and $14 million for expanding collaborative grants with community mental health providers to give students access to mental health services.

In all, Evers’ budget proposal will include more than $60 million over the next biennium for mental health services.

“This is a critical issue,” Evers said of using safety grant funding for mental health initiatives. “The fact that some of it was left behind I think was reflective of the kind of narrowness of the scope (of the grants).”

A state DOJ spokeswoman said that mental health training has been a “cornerstone of DOJ’s grant program from Day 1,” noting that to qualify for the money, school staff will have to have training in trauma-informed care before the end of the 2018-19 school year or show staff have already received such training.

Evers also said the mental health aspect of DPI’s budget request is the first of a handful of recommendations the agency is releasing over the coming weeks. He said he’s planning to submit DPI’s full budget request in September or October.

See Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Coverage here.

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DPI Announces Mental Health Grants

By John Forester | July 24, 2018

Sixty-four school districts and consortiums are sharing $3.25 million in state grant funding to provide school-based mental health services.

Additional information is available in the Department of Public Instruction news release here.

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WPEN Summer Summit

By John Forester | July 23, 2018

The Wisconsin Public Education Network (WPEN), a project of the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES), is a nonpartisan coalition of parents, students, educators, school board members, administrators, community leaders and education policy experts united behind one objective — advocating for Wisconsin public schools.

WPEN is now taking registrations for its Fourth Annual Summer Summit, August 1st in Appleton, hosted by Appleton Area School District and Fox Cities Advocates for Public Education. Please forward this information to those board members, staff or parents in your district with an interest in advocating effectively on behalf of public school children and learning more about the challenges facing our public schools.

The agenda includes a full day of informational breakouts and strategy sessions led by education experts and advocacy team leaders, and plenary presentations from speakers who will inspire action and deeper conversations about the value of public education to our democracy and our communities. The Summit is an annual opportunity to connect with and learn from others from around the state who care deeply about our public schools, and to strategize on ways to take local action to ensure every child in every school has equal opportunity to succeed.

The theme of this year’s Summit is Vote Public, an invitation to make public education a focus of local elections, and to hold elected officials accountable for votes that support the best interests of our students and public schools. An afternoon workshop provides opportunities for people from various constituencies and various parts of the state to come together to find common ground nonpartisan advocacy and collaboration in our home communities. Our emphasis throughout the day will be on how we can work together to create local-level actions with state-level impact.

The agenda features over 30 breakouts on a wide range of topics impacting school funding, school climate, and student success. Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. Tony Evers, will join us to kick off the event, and our plenary sessions include a conversation with Blue Ribbon Commission on School funding members co-chair Rep. Joel Kitchens and Dr. Julie Underwood, and a keynote presentation by Jitu Brown of Chicago’s Journey for Justice Alliance.

The Summit will take place at Appleton North High School from 8:00 am to 5:00pm, and will be followed by a dinner event at the Stone Arch at Riverview Gardens with special guest, Matt Rothschild of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Registration for the Summit is $30 (includes lunch), and the dinner is an additional $30. Registration fee waivers are available for those for whom the cost is otherwise prohibitive, and those who wish to donate to this scholarship fund may do so at check-out. Those who wish to join the Network as Blue Ribbon Partners receive free admission to both the Summit and the dinner, as well as a free t-shirt at the event.

See the registration form for details and email with any questions.

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Employee Personnel Files and Public Records Requests

By John Forester | July 18, 2018

From the Legal Side . . .

In its most recent Legal Update, the Strang Patteson Law Firm reviews a recent Wisconsin Court of Appeals decision highlighting the application of Wisconsin’s Public Records Law to requests for employee personnel records, specifically records involving the investigation of a complaint against a public employee.

The SAA regularly receives these legal updates and we believe this is valuable information for SAA members.  We are distributing this update to SAA members with the permission of Strang Patteson.

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SAA Following the Work of Two Study Committees

By John Forester | July 12, 2018

The SAA is following two Legislative Council Study Committees as they meet over the next several months (the web page links below will allow you to follow the work of these important committees):

Legislative Council Study Committee on the Investment and Use of the School Trust Funds

Legislative Council Study Committee on the Identification and Management of Dyslexia

The Committee on Dyslexia held its first meeting on July 9th.  It’s next meeting will be held on August 29th in Room 411 South, State Capitol.  Michael Weber, Superintendent of the Port Washington – Saukville School District is a member of the Committee.

The Committee on School Trust Funds will hold its first meeting on August 16th in Room 411 South, State Capitol.

The SAA will keep the membership informed of any important developments from these study committees.

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SAA Member Jeff Wright Running for State Assembly

By John Forester | July 11, 2018

For the past 16+ years that I have served as the SAA’s lobbyist, SAA members have talked about the importance of school administrators getting elected to the Legislature.

Yet, during that time, we haven’t had many administrators step up to run.  In 2016, Jeff Wright, assistant superintendent for the Sauk Prairie Schools, ran a strong but unsuccessful campaign for the State Assembly.  Jeff is running again this year for the State Assembly (51st Assembly District) as a Democrat.  Jeff’s career as an educator began as a history, government and world affairs teacher.  He also served as a high school principal on the south side of Chicago.  I first connected with Jeff several years ago when he delivered extremely effective testimony on the state budget before the Joint Finance Committee.  He is a strong advocate for Wisconsin schools and Wisconsin school children.

Needless to say, the SAA is very excited about Jeff’s candidacy.  If you would like more information about his campaign, including information on making a campaign contribution, I have provided a link to Jeff’s campaign website below.

Jeff Wright for Assembly

Please note:  The State Elections Commission has advised that SAA members should access campaign donation pages from a personal computer and not on school servers.

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School Law Update: Recent Matters of Interest

By John Forester | July 10, 2018

From the Legal Side . . .

In its most recent newsletter, Boardman Clark provides an update on a number of court decisions or other matters that have been in the news recently.

The SAA regularly receives these legal updates and we believe this is valuable information for SAA members.  We are distributing this update to SAA members with the permission of Boardman Clark.

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SAA Re-Issuing Priority Legislative Alert on PI 34 Rule

By John Forester | June 27, 2018

The SAA is re-issuing its Priority Legislative Alert on the Educator Licensure Rule Changes (PI 34).  The licensure flexibility that WASDA, WASBO, AWSA, WCASS and WASPA worked so hard to achieve in the PI 34 rule is in jeopardy.

The Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR) held a public hearing last Thursday, June 7th on the stakeholder workgroup revisions to licensure.  The Committee called the hearing because of opposition from the Reading Council to Tier 1 licensees being able to teach without having passed the Foundations of Reading Test (FORT).  Following the hearing, the Committee decided to “hold” the rule and meet again on July 13th, at which time they will likely seek modifications to the rule.  These modifications could weaken the licensure flexibility afforded under the PI 34 revisions.

We urge all SAA members to take action nowPlease contact the members of JCRAR, in support of CR17-093, the PI 34 rule revision.

In your communication, please consider using the talking points listed below.  Also, it is critical that you share with JCRAR members the challenges that you face in hiring high-quality educators in this environment and that your district needs the flexibility afforded under CR 17-093.

Talking Points:

  1. Wisconsin school districts are facing growing school staffing issues including high turnover, fewer applicants for positions, and candidate shortages in a variety of disciplines. With fewer new teachers entering the profession, new approaches to educator recruitment and retention are critical to ensure all children have access to high-quality educators.
  2. The licensure flexibility afforded under CR17-093 is universally supported by school leaders in their effort to address the growing workforce challenges faced by Wisconsin school districts.
  3. We must also point out that districts are currently operating under these proposed rule changes as part of the current Emergency Rule. These proposals are already making a positive difference in meeting these workforce challenges in districts throughout Wisconsin.
  4. School administrators support all aspects of the proposed rule but, of particular importance are the flexibilities and candidate expanding aspects in the Tier 1 license. This will allow for a much-needed district sponsored pathway to licensure, immediate licensure for out of state candidates, licensing for speech and language pathologists with a Department of Safety and Professional Services license and licensing for individuals coming into a district on an internship or residency status.  These are effective, no-cost solutions to a significant workforce need in Wisconsin school districts.
  5. Educator licensure is simply a minimum requirement.  District leadership is responsible for hiring and developing successful educators, and ultimately determining educator quality based on actual teacher performance and student outcomes.
  6. Reducing the Tier 1 license flexibility in the rule has the potential to impact as many as 2,400 teaching licenses, many of which are FORT-related stipulations.  Any portion of these licensees that lose their ability to teach will exacerbate an already troubling workforce challenge and reduce educational opportunities for children.

For your convenience in contacting the JCRAR members, we have provided a link to the JCRAR webpage (which includes contact information for each committee member).  We have also provided direct email links to each committee member below.

Representative Ballweg (Co-Chair)

Senator Nass (Co-Chair)

Senator LeMahieu

Senator Stroebel

Senator Larson

Senator Wirch

Representative Neylon

Representative Ott

Representative Hebl

Representative Anderson

If you should have any questions please email me.  Thanks for listening and, as always, thank you for everything you do on behalf of Wisconsin school children.

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